Unheimliche Geschichten (1919)

Unheimliche

Directed by Richard Oswald [Other horror films: Der Hund von Baskerville, 3. Teil – Das unheimliche Zimmer (1916), Der Hund von Baskerville, 4. Teil (1916), Nächte des Grauens (1917), Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray (1917), Nachtgestalten (1920), Cagliostro – Liebe un Leben eines großen Abenteurers (1929), Der Hund von Baskerville (1929), Unheimliche Geschichten (1932)]

The first anthology horror movie ever made, Unheimliche Geschichten (known as Eerie Tales, or Uncanny Tales) further cements Germany’s domination in the horror genre, but also presents us a mixed bag of uninspired stories.

Out of the five stories within this anthology (The Apparition, The Hand, The Black Cat, The Suicide Club, and The Spectre), the only one that I really didn’t like was the final story, The Spectre, which is based off a poem and has a much more light-hearted feel to it. But that’s not to say the other four stories are good – in fact, really, only one story is above average, being The Suicide Club, while the other three are either average or below, being held back by either my perceived unoriginality or too stagy a vibe.

The Apparition is, for the most part, decent, and there is a rather spooky vibe to it, and I even like the ending reveal, but it was just lacking additional meat to the story. The Hand was decently well done, but again, there’s not much to it. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Black Cat was enjoyable to a degree, but just fell short of actually captivating me. The Spectre, which is unfortunately the worst story within and the worst to end the flick on, wasn’t my thing whatsoever.

The framing story wasn’t amazing, but I’m giving that a break – being the first anthology horror movie (preceding the 1945 classic Dead of Night by 26 years), I don’t expect an amazing set up. The actors throughout were okay, but some were prone to overacting even within the silent era of film, which is saying something. Perhaps Conrad Veidt did the best, playing roles in all five stories, along with the framing sequence (something also done by both Reinhold Schunzel and Anita Berber).

Unheimliche Geschichten is a piece of history, and for fans particularly of anthology horror movies, it might be worth a look, but to say that it is occasionally stale, and comes across far more average than you could hope, would be understating it. By no means a bad film, when all is said and done, there are plenty of other silent German films I would recommend before this one.

6/10

Child’s Play 2 (1990)

Child's Play 2

Directed by John Lafia [Other horror films: Man’s Best Friend (1993), Monster! (1999), The Rats (2002)]

This moderately amazes me to say, but the second Child’s Play really is about as good as the first, if not a little better. It’s probably negligible when it comes to the rating, in truth, but nonetheless, Child’s Play 2 is an extraordinarily well-done sequel.

The main cast is close to excellent throughout. Gerrit Graham (of TerrorVision fame) plays a good jackass foster parent. Jenny Agutter, his character’s wife, does well as the more sensible of the two (though to be honest, out of the main cast, Agutter’s the least memorable). Of course, Alex Vincent comes back as Andy and does a fantastic job, basically playing a kid who knows he’s screwed, no matter what he does.

The winning cast member, however, is Christine Elise. Playing a street tough kid, Kyle, in the same foster home as Andy, Elise shows a lot of heart and never has a boring scene. She was in a few television movies and various episodes prior to Child’s Play 2, so this was her feature film debut, and boy, was it strong. A very likable character, Kyle was a gem to see throughout the film.

Of course, Brad Dourif does a fantastic job again, with some fantastically amusing and well-done lines. I can never get enough of Dourif’s voice acting, as it really makes Chucky the badass he is. On a related note, while there were a few deaths that didn’t do much for me (the first one, for instance), the suffocation death was jolly good fun, and every death past that was entirely serviceable. Chucky went all out, especially near the end (and boy, did he get mutilated as the movie went on), and was a sight to behold.

The special effects were damn good, especially regarding Chucky’s bodily mutilations toward the end. Somewhat ironic that most of the gore in this flick comes from the antagonist, but it looked great and worked out well.

I’ve seen this movie many times before, but it never struck me until now just how well this compares with the first movie. The tight story-writing and fantastic cast really allows this sequel to stand up with the original, and more so, this movie itself can stand up as one of the best 1990’s horror flicks (honestly, the competition wasn’t high in that decade). Child’s Play 2 wastes no time, and from beginning to end, it’s a damn fun ride with an amazing finale.

8.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, episode #18. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the film.

Mortuary (1983)

Mortuary

Directed by Howard Avedis [Other horror films: They’re Playing with Fire (1984)]

I’ve long heard about this film, and for some time now, have been interested in seeing it. Does it live up to my expectations? For the most part, but it does have one glaring problem.

Mortuary has a lot of class for a slasher, and while the story itself was lacking in the atmosphere I was hoping it’d convey, there are plenty of suspenseful and well-done scenes. The setting, a coastal California city, stood out, and many of the actors were solid.

Mary McDonough, David Wysocki, Christopher George, and Bill Paxton all stood out positively (which, for George, is a good thing, as this is his final film before his death). Paxton in particular did extremely well with his role, a quirky, possibly messed up son of a mortician. He was over-the-top at times (the scene with him skipping through the graveyard was a bit much), but his character was fun, especially toward the end.

While we had decent suspense throughout, the one big problem with this film is lack of kills. On-screen, we get very little in the way of deaths, which is disappointing, as the few we do get are decently well-done. Something like two, three death scenes tops doesn’t really do it for me, and while certainly the story was interesting and captivating, a few additional tertiary characters to be bumped off would have made a positive difference.

That said, Mortuary ended up as a fine film. Sure, the route it took was one almost utterly expected (the ending itself wasn’t too far removed from Happy Birthday to Me), but this film took it with class. A solid movie, I just wish it had spent a bit more time giving us some kills. Otherwise, this is certainly worth a look for fans of the slasher subgenre.

8/10

Phantasm II (1988)

Phantasm

Directed by Don Coscarelli [Other horror films: Phantasm (1979), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), John Dies at the End (2012)]

While lacking much of the dreamy atmospheric feel that the first film possesses, Phantasm II makes up for it with both all-out action and fantastic special effects.

In many ways, this flick comes across as a buddy road trip movie, with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Michael (James Le Gros, replacing Michael Baldwin) attempting to track down and kill The Tall Man. It’s a fun romp, and seeing Reggie with his chainsaw and Mike with his makeshift flamethrower searching through desolate buildings carries with it a lot of appeal.

Even with this film coming out nine years after the original, Reggie Bannister still does a great job with his character, and though I’d have preferred Baldwin to be recast as Mike, Le Gros doesn’t come across as too out of place. Paula Irvine does a pretty good job as Liz (Mike’s love interest), and Samantha Phillips, while lacking in screen-time, has a strong presence also. Needless to say, Angus Scrimm continues to dominate as The Tall Man, and does a fantastic job as a threatening, powerful, unknown force.

Like I said, the movie mostly lacks the dreamy, somewhat incoherent feel of the first film (though it does pop up now and again throughout the movie), and instead replaces that by-and-large with an action/road trip, which, while at times fun, doesn’t quite have the same effect. It felt more Hollywood, in short. Which isn’t to say the movie still doesn’t stand out, but the feel of the movie is certainly far removed from the first.

That said, the action sequences (chainsaw fight, for example) and special effects (Tall Man’s scenes near the end) were top-notch, and highly recommended to any fan of horror. Much like the first movie, Phantasm II also leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, which has it’s pros and cons. The beginning and ending both seem a bit of a jumbled mess (really makes us question what the reality of the first and second movies really were), but while somewhat annoying, it has it’s charms too.

Phantasm II isn’t as good as the original movie, but it is still a very strong film, and undoubtedly more fun than the original, but probably, in the end, less memorable. Certainly worth watching still, as this series really is one that has to be seen to believe.

8.5/10

Die Augen der Mumie Ma (1918)

Eyes of the Mummy

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a moderately difficult flick to talk about, mainly because it straddles the line between horror and non-horror. Ultimately, I do think that Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy, as it’s commonly known) is a horror movie, but I would not at all excuse anyone else for thinking otherwise.

If you’re expecting an actual mummy, as many viewers tend to, then that might lead to many of the disappointments this movie brings. It’s a heavy drama-laden flick, not to mention romance, which overshadows the horror aspects. Luckily, toward the end, things do pick up. Not that much, though. While I’m a fan of the ending, it comes in far too late to make that positive an impact, and unfortunately, there were too few scenes prior that had much a threatening feel to them.

Another thing that I can’t help but criticize: most of the times, actors in silent flicks are about as good as you would expect, with a few standing out above the others. Here, it just seems to me that many of the actors’ and actresses’ hearts weren’t into it. Harry Liedtke was fine, but didn’t have the power to really carry the protagonist side of the plot, and sadly, neither did Pola Negri (her dancing didn’t do much for me either, on a side-note).

Emil Jannings did the best, by far, with his performance. While he was nowhere near as good as other early mad men (he’s no Lorre from Mad Love, or Barrymore Svengali), to be sure, and he didn’t get a hell of a lot of characterization, I still felt that most of the time, Jannings came across as a threat. I just wish he had more screen-time to do so.

Die Augen der Mumie Ma will probably disappoint most horror fans going in expecting a Nosferatu or Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Perhaps one of the few missteps Germany took during their reign over the horror genre (and it is entirely possible that this flick was meant far more a drama/romance than horror), this movie just doesn’t have much to recommend, especially considering far better movies that came out around the same time.

5/10

The Visit (2015)

The Visit

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan [Other horror films: Signs (2002), The Village (2004), The Happening (2008), Split (2016), Old (2021)]

As disagreeable as some may find my opening statement, here I go: The Visit isn’t that bad a film.

Sure, it’s far from perfect – though one can expect more jump scares in found footage films (it just seems to make sense), this movie was a bit inundated with them to an annoying degree. Typical Hollywood jump scares can be okay in moderate doses, I feel. But when they make up a large portion of the total scares, something’s wrong.

But the film did many things right, as far as I’m concerned. Throughout the first hour of the movie, tension is built decently well between the grandchildren and the grandparents. In particular, the scenes with the oven and Becca (played by Olivia DeJonge) were quite tense, though the first one far more so than the second.

And while we’re on this topic, let’s talk about the grandchildren in the film.

Some reviews claim that the children are annoying and unrealistic, which gets a bit old. Whenever a child acts differently than people expect, it’s always “unrealistic.” Was Tyler (played by Ed Oxenbould) and his proclivity toward rapping annoying? Yes, but guess what – 13 year olds are often annoying. I know I was. In fact, if Tyler wasn’t annoying to some extent, something would be suspect. Did Becca use a more expanded vocabulary than you’d expect from an average 15-year old girl? Indeed, but so do many teenagers. Some teenagers talk just as Becca did in this film. Is it common? Not quite, but claiming that Becca was unrealistic because of her manner of speaking is utterly idiotic.

Why am I harping on this point? The Visit, when all is said and done, is just an average film. But the one thing they got down pat were the grandchildren. They’re performance, save one scene near the end from Oxenbould, was pretty damn good. The relationship between Becca and her brother was portrayed very well; perhaps Tyler was being a tad more dickish than he should have been when grilling Becca about her self-esteem issues, but then again, how many 13-year old boys are oblivious? I know I was. The relationship between them felt real throughout almost the whole film. For that alone, I applaud these two for their performance.

As for the movie itself, the twist, while expected to an extent, wasn’t that bad. But it did feel a wee heavy handed during the reveal. So what we have here is a tense movie for the first two-thirds, and an average horror film for the last thirty. Great acting from the kids, and decent acting from the grandparents. And, let’s not leave this out, some pretty emotional scenes from both Oxenbould and DeJonge. In the end, The Visit is just about average with some really stand-out points. Factors such as the reveal of the twist, along with the final ten minutes or so, bring it down bit, and what could have been an 8 or 8.5 loses points for an almost over-reliance on jump scares and a flawed final act.

7.5/10

Pikovaya dama (1916)

Pikovaya

Directed by Yakov Protazanov [Other horror films: Satana likuyushchiy (1917)]

This Russian flick (often known as Queen of Spades) comes to us a year before the Russian revolution, before the USSR came into power, and so it certainly feels historic when watching. But having seen it twice now, it really doesn’t leave that much an imprint on me.

The biggest problem, for me, at least, is that while the horror elements are there (apparitions, a man losing his mind, and the like), they come so late into the film to really make a positive difference. Which isn’t to say the story isn’t good before that, but it feels far more a drama than anything resembling even the 1910’s standards of horror.

Unfortunately, despite the well-done set up of the plot, this lack of horror early on is rather damaging. Utilizing flashbacks as a way to unfold the story was certainly fun (and perhaps even innovative), but after the first 15 minutes, the movie drags until around the last ten. Sure, the movie as a whole is just over an hour, so it’s not as though it drags for a long time, but it was still noticeable.

One thing Pikovaya dama did really well, though, is the score, which is superb. Suspenseful when it needs to be, the music in this flick was a real treat, and even during portions where I was less than enthralled, the music helped keep me engaged. The other high point was our main actor, Ivan Mozzhukhin, who did a perfectly enjoyable job throughout as a man obsessed with discovering a secret best left untouched.

The final showdown, as it was, lacked the suspense one would hope, and Pikovaya dama wraps up extraordinarily quickly, which was a bit of a let-down. Still, this is a movie I would recommend a fan of silents view once, as there are some clever and enjoyable parts to be found. As a horror flick, though, there’s not a whole lot to recommend this movie for.

5.5/10

Friend Request (2016)

Friend Request

Directed by Simon Verhoeven [Other horror films: N/A]

Throughout this film, I couldn’t help but think of the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake – this movie is a generic, cookie cutter Hollywood production, just as the ANOES remake was. It had sequences similar to the remake, along with some settings not too far removed from A Nightmare on Elm Street. It also had a sucky ending, which isn’t to say the rest of the film was stellar.

But let’s not get overwhelmed. The story is a simple one: a strange, socially awkward girl tries to befriend Laura, but when she becomes too obsessed, Laura unfriends her from Facebook. Devastated, the girl, Marina, kills herself. And now all of Laura’s friends are being killed by Marina’s spirit.

Honestly, the plot’s not a terrible one – there were portions I found pretty interesting. But there were also points I found extraordinarily bothersome (in short, how idiotic and incurious the authorities and Dean of the college are about the fact Laura is unable to delete specific videos on her Facebook account – instead, she’s punished for something she’s not able to control). Some plot points just don’t make much sense.

And speaking about not making much sense, let’s talk about the last twenty minutes, when one character apparently loses it and snaps. Now, I get that the situation is a stressful one, but given what we were told about this character, his actions made no sense whatsoever, and seemed to just be added to throw in another threat (which lasts all of two minutes). Oh, that reminds me, why exactly did Laura not tell her boyfriend that a previous friend was trying to kill her? Seemed like something he might need to know.

But the real ending is bad also, which is a bit of a trend this film has. Laura, to end this curse, has to destroy Marina’s laptop (the police never found the spot of suicide, just saw the video). But apparently, that wasn’t in the cards. And at the end, it’s not fully explained what happens. There are a few choices, so I guess just pick and choose how to interpret it. One more thing about the problems with the film: it ends with some atrocious dubstep song. Now, I don’t dislike dubstep as much as I used to, but God, what a bad song to end the film with.

All of that said, there are some positives. Many of the actors and actresses do decently well with what they’re given. And the story, despite the glaring problems throughout, actually isn’t a terrible idea. Though I just remembered the CGI wasps that pop up over four times throughout the film, so any other positives are beyond me. Friend Request is Hollywood tripe. Like I said, I can’t help but compare it with the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Both were shit products to make money off teenagers. Sad thing is it works. Friend Request has a hell of a lot of flaws, and it’s certainly below average. And some people wonder why I often stick to lower-quality films. Points are given for the interesting story, such as it was.

5/10

Child’s Play (1988)

Childs Play

Directed by Tom Holland [Other horror films: Fright Night (1985), Two-Fisted Tales (1992, segment ‘King of the Road’), The Langoliers (1994), Thinner (1996), Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales (2014), Rock, Paper, Scissors (2017)]

This classic flick gets many things right, and very little wrong. Despite the nature of the movie, believe me, it’s not at all as silly as you might think (or what later sequels would lead you to believe). I won’t have a lot to say on this, so bear with me.

The story is pretty fun and captivating throughout, not to mention original. Certainly didn’t really feel like other movies around the time, and still stands out to today (despite some not so great sequels, such as Bride and Seed). Both tense and well-paced, everything seems to work out fine in this department.

The acting is pretty top-notch all-around, also. Catherine Hicks does a fantastic job as a mother worried sick for, at first, the mental health of her child, and then about a doll trying to take over her son’s body. Hicks has never been a big name, but she does beautifully here. Chris Sarandon, as a police detective, does a fine job also. It actually took me until this re-watch to realize he’s also in the 1985 classic Fight Night. Big duh moment then. He was a fun character though, and certainly got his licks in.

Despite being a young kid, Alex Vincent does extremely well as Andy. The scene in which Chucky’s coming for him while in the institution is perhaps one of my favorites in the film, and Vincent shows very strong acting both there and pretty much throughout the film, all without turning into an annoyance, which I appreciated. And need I mention Brad Dourif? His voice makes Chucky the memorable mofo that he is, and really helps the movie stand out from it’s peers.

As aforementioned, there’s more than a few kills that aren’t great (keywords: window, house), but others make up for it, such as that voodoo scene. The car scene too, with Sarandon, was a fun ride (for us, not Sarandon), with Chucky trying to stab him through the seat (another scene that’s stuck with me since I was a kid).

There’s very little that Child’s Play doesn’t get right. I suppose at times Chucky could be a bit much, but really, that’s part of his nature, it seems. The movie doesn’t waste any time, and just throws us into the action, which I always appreciated. It never really lets up, either. A solid movie all-around, Child’s Play is one that, if you’ve not yet seen, you no longer have an excuse to avoid.

8.5/10

We covered this classic on Fight Evil’s third podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the movie, and you shouldn’t be surprised by how much both of us enjoy it.

The Avenging Conscience: or, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ (1914)

Avenging

Directed by D.W. Griffith [Other horror films: One Exciting Night (1922)]

One of the earliest full-length horror films, and one of the USA’s first of note, this D.W. Griffith feature, while enjoyable, is a mixed bag.

The main problem is that this is a moderately meandering, melodramatic morality tale (alliteration FTW!). Murder is bad, and thou shalt not kill, and all that rot, but it doesn’t make for an amazing story. Still, for the most part, things worked out okay.

The first 55 minutes were all solid, with a few seemingly-less necessary portions, but after a certain point, things felt as they were dragging. It picked up again at the end, with a twist of sorts (though really, it makes sense in the context of the story), and I rather enjoyed the conclusion.

Henry B. Walthall did a good job as a young man on the edge of sanity – you could tell that toward the end, his character was drenched in uncertainness. Walthall, overall, did quite well here. His uncle, played by Spottiswoode Aitken, was memorable also, though I wish we saw a bit more of him. While no one else stood out to me, everyone played their roles fine.

Making many references to Edgar Allan Poe (constantly quoting ‘Annabel Lee’, and alluding to both The Cask of Amontillado and The Tell-Tale Heart), portions of The Avenging Conscience do come across as perhaps darker than you would think. The score, at times jovial, at times almost frantic, really helped to make some scenes more suspenseful.

The Avenging Conscience: or, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ may not come across to many as a real horror movie, despite both murder and revenge from beyond the grave, because of the amount of romantic drama, but I’d urge any fan of horror to still give it a shot. It’s far from perfect, and not even close to the best silent horror flick, but it’s still solid despite the flaws, and is definitely a piece of horror history.

7.5/10